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‘That’s Just What Happens When a Black Woman is at the Helm’: Good American and Skims Co-Founder Talks Building Multi-Million Dollar Brands and Demanding Inclusiveness

For most entrepreneurs, success is defined by their ability to take risks and accept new challenges. For Emma Grede, CEO and co-founder of successful denim-brand Good American and the first Black woman entrepreneur to be a guest Shark on ABC’s popular business pitch show “Shark Tank,” success is cemented in her ability to learn new concepts and then use this knowledge to create change. 

Photo from LinkedIn

“I think everything I didn’t know led me to a place where I had that naiveté,” Grede, 39, told CNBC. “I didn’t know what could go wrong. And so in a way, I just got on with things that, right now, just would seem scary or stupid.”

The London-born-and-bred Grede has long had a love for fashion. She studied fashion business at the London College of Fashion, but dropped out to get real-life experience through fashion internships. Now, she’s running multi-million-dollar fashion businesses.

Grede’s passion for fashion and partnering with celebrities led her to help launch Good American in 2016 with reality TV star Khloe Kardashian. The company is on pace to bring in $155 million in 2021 sales, a company spokesperson told CNBC.

And in 2018, she became a founding partner in Kim Kardashian’s brand Skims, a brand that includes underwear, shapewear and loungewear featuring skin-toned apparel that embraces a variety of skin types. In 2021, Skims was valued at $1.6 billion, The New York Times reported.

According to Grede, it was good old-fashioned networking that landed her the partnerships and the willingness to take a risk.

“I was drawn to that world and those people, [but] it was more a means of escapism,” Grede told Bustle. “That glamour was very far from how I was being raised.” Grede grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in East London with her three sisters and single mother. Her mother was a banker at Morgan Stanley in the United Kingdom for 18 years.

“I was really uncomfortable when I started Good American,” she told Glamour Magazine UK, “Despite having worked in fashion for 10 years previously, I didn’t know how to run an apparel company. I didn’t know how to bring something to market. I didn’t have any of that experience. I was sort of just sailing through.”

For the married mother of two, it is about the challenge. “I just want to be for the record here. It’s really nice to have money. But it’s also really good to go through those experiences, because it gave me like a fire in my belly,” she told Glamour.

The mission of both Good American and Skims is steeped in Grede’s commitment to inclusivity.  

Photo from emmagrede Instagram page)

“I never set out to create a company that was rooted in principles of diversity,” Grede told Bustle. “That’s just what happens when a Black woman is at the helm of a company. Decisions are made with this viewpoint that I grew up [with].”

But for Grede, inclusivity in the fashion industry is more than selling extended sizes in retail stores. It’s also about supporting Black-owned brands in retail spaces. As chairwoman of Fifteen Percent Pledge, Grede leads the charge in urging retailers to dedicate at least 15 percent of their shelves to Black-owned businesses. With Grede’s help, the organization has been able to raise $4 billion that will support Black entrepreneurs in the U.S. over the next two years. 

She also has invested in Black brands herself. She recently invested in Bread Beauty Supply, a hair-care brand for textured hair founded by Black Australian entrepreneur Maeva Heim. “I think that Maeva is amazing…she’s created an incredible product. When I first met her, it was all about the hair oil and all I could think was…This is insane!” Grede told Glamour.

New Venture

Grede’s most recent venture is co-founding Safely, a plant-based cleaning products brand, launched in March with Kris Jenner and Chrissy Teigen (who reportedly stepped away to focus on her family).

Emma Grede with Kris Jenner (Photo from emmagrede Instagram page)

Learning Lessons and Creating A Path For Success 

When Grede was 19, she made her first foray into the fashion industry when she landed a job with a fashion show production company. It was here that she learned the importance of building client relationships and working on a team to produce strong outcomes. Seven years later, Grede launched IT Worldwide, a London-based talent management and entertainment marketing agency.

“I had been around a lot of people, seeing clients and deals,” Grede told CNBC. “I just imagined, ‘Well, if they can do it, why can’t I?’”

In time, Grede landed partnerships with major brands such as Dior and then began working with celebrities such as Natalie Portman and Kris Jenner. Her partnership with Jenner would eventually lead to two of the greatest opportunities in her career as a businesswoman — lucrative deals with Kim and Khloe Kardashian. 

In 2009, Grede orchestrated the partnership for Portman to represent Dior. After that, IT Worldwide became well-placed in the industry. By 2018, IT Worldwide was acquired by Rogers & Cowan for an undisclosed amount.

“I actually look for those opportunities in my life, where can I learn or put myself into situations where I’m a little bit unfamiliar,” Grede, who relocated to Los Angeles from London in 2017, told CNBC. “Because actually, I think that is what helps me to grow.”

Do-Good Business Philosophy

In business, Grede said she had to learn to roll with the punches to deal with the hiccups that come with launching new brands. “My view is that I’m a very principled person and I have to be able to go to sleep at night and be like, ‘Am I happy with myself?’ I really don’t concern myself with everybody else,” she shared with Glamour. “You’re going to make good decisions and bad decisions, but you’ve got to roll on. At the end of the day, the company is more than something somebody said, or something somebody did. It’s like an amalgamation. Now I have hundreds of staff that are all relying on me to get up and figure out a way, and that’s what I do every day.”

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